When our favorite steakhouse in Kensington Village announced a new partnership with an Alberta hormone-free beef producer, they decided a press release wouldn’t cut it. Instead, Premium, the top bull in Canada, along with his lovely four-legged escort, rolled up up in prime style. Soon that name tag on his ear will be upgraded to match his new moniker: Benchmark Modern Steak.Inside the VIP dining room at Modern Steak, third-generation cattle farmer Michael Munton explained why his business tagline is “Engineering Superior Beef.” Much of it is the marbling…Michael whipped out his smartphone to show me Premium’s fat stats. Seen in the blue, the average bull in Canada has .39% fat, while Premium’s marbling (in the white) is a whopping 1.86%, making him worth every cent of the $75,000 Modern Steak paid for him. His value as a prime papa will turn a profit pretty darn quick. Mike tells me his stud fees are $30-55 bucks a straw. And Premium is prolific. He can produce 2700 of those units in a week.But enough of the numbers… Modern Steak had a table of hungry media to feed.The first course of the four-course menu was steak tartare, made with – you guessed it – Benchmark beef. And a surprising white wine pairing: Four Star Chardonnay, a delicious vanilla-scented offering from California’s central coast. Of course, no self-respecting food blogger would take a bite before taking a pic, like Irene Seto on the right. On the left, Avenue Editor Kathe Lemon politely waits to dive in.The next course was ravioli, filled with Benchmark dry aged braised short ribs, ladled with mushroom consome, topped with adorable pickled himeji mushrooms and bubbling grand padano foam. The server tried in vain to get us to eat at peak foam, without pausing to take photos.Overheard kitchen drama just before delivery of the third course: “These plates look like sh*t!” No, Gordon Ramsay was not in the kitchen. But yes, Modern Steak’s chef cares just as much.However, the plates looked fantastic to Mr. Fab and the rest of the reporters. The Benchmark Angus prime grade ribeye was cooked to rare perfection.Dessert was beef-free but equally delicious. Pavlova, a tonic bean meringue with fruit salad, lemon curd and dotted with basil mint gel, went well with the paired moscato, but I always enjoy a fine wine lineup to aid my consumption. Which was why I denied the server trying to take them away from me.While the prized bovines relaxed before their trip back to Benchmark HQ in Warner, AB, Modern Steak owner Stephen Deere hinted at a new venture: Modern Burger. He was mum on the details, but perhaps a little bourbon will loosen his lips. Modern Steak and Benchmark will partner up again for the Official Jack Daniels Stampede Dinner on Tuesday, July 11.
Last night Chef Meets BC Grape bloomed in Calgary, transforming the staid scene of a Hyatt ballroom into a boozy bounty of bonhomie. BC wines have come a long way, baby, growing from just 17 grape wineries in 1990 to 278 today. Didja know the Okanagan Valley is warmer than Napa Valley, and gets two hours more sunlight per day during peak growing season? However, my mission was more flavonoid than factoid. Here’s my tasting report.First, I sipped one of my fave blushes, Hush by Dirty Laundry. Light and summery, with a name that only adds to the satisfaction. Yes, I’m a word nerd.
Next, I moseyed over to the Haywire table, where a jauntily-named sparkling wine caught my eye. Crisp, fresh, and definitely not sweet, The Bub was a delightful discovery — and destined to be my prosecco replacement this sumer.
Then it was time to see what the Calgary foodie crew had on offer. Deane House’s bison terrines were delish, with designer books in the background to add to the ambience. The suggested pairing was with another vintner’s red, but I took my terrine straight to my all-time favorite BC red. Burrowing Owl just keeps getting better and better in the rouge department. If you really want to be a burrowing baller, ask for the Athene. None of their higher end blend was on hand, unforch. But I managed to make do with multiple tastes of their Merlot, Cab Franc and Syrah. Yeah!Despite Duncan Ly’s departure for foreign pastures, Raw Bar brought their A-game to the event. Not only because of the automatic caviar qualification (Northern Divine lives up to its name), but also because their nori crusted steel head salmon bites were amaaaazing. See what I did there with all those As?Finally, an unexpected swoon over a Chardonnay. Until now, I’ve never found a BC chard that blows my hair back, despite my fangirlness over Okanagan wines in general. But Culmina is a new blend, by experienced experts. The Triggs (of Jackson-Triggs) consider this to be a culmination of their life’s work. It’s complex and lovely, and expensive (retails for about $55). To which I say, Cheers!
If you’ve been cooking three squares a day on the home front for the past few years, perhaps you haven’t noticed — Calgary has been caught up in a foodie revolution. A hot new eatery seems to open every month downtown, on 17th, in Inglewood or in other cool YYC hoods. And it’s not just culinary art that creates the experience — interior design is also a prime part of the food mood. So when I was invited to a panel discussion of four of Calgary’s busiest restaurant interior designers, moderated by Jennifer Hamilton of Avenue Magazine, I couldn’t resist.
On the left, Amanda Hamilton, who recently did the interior of Native Tongues, told us she’d loved restaurants ever since she was an Earl’s girl. Kate Allen, center, known for her work on Bridgette Bar, Model Milk and Anju, said, “At the start of a project, the designer should be mostly listening.”
Talk quickly turned to costs. For everyone who likes to blame the designer for going crazy with expensive details, Amanda said, “I think designers get a bad rap for blowing budgets.”
On the right, Sarah Ward (Nash, Proof, Cluck and Cleaver) credited Chef Michael Noble for changing her financial outlook on design. “Prior to working with him as designer, I didn’t realize the impact of how my design affected the bottom line. You have to be careful of applied costs down the road.”
Sally Healy (pictured below), the designer behind Our Daily Brett and the now-shuttered Borgo Trattoria and Capo, was quick to chime in: “It affects us too. Cuz if they go broke like some of my restaurants have…”
The boldest of the bunch, Sally’s the type of designer who can make you believe in a project from sheer force of personality. One of her top priorities when starting a new design? “You have to decide where the sex in the room is.”
“Once a client gives their wish list, I do have a pretty good idea of what it’s going to cost.”
On the corner of 7th Street and 10th Avenue SW, under the benevolent gaze of MacLean and Partners, a new “chef-driven” bar has opened, as their website proclaims. Which, I suspect, is a different way of saying restaurant. I support an original turn of phrase, but sly semantics aren’t needed for a sunny spotlight. Bridgette Bar is bound to shine, far above the eatery herd. Read on to see for yourself.
I was delighted to be invited to an opening day exclusive sneak peek to sample a wide selection from the dinner menu. It was hard to tear myself away from the earthenware-encased watercress and charred beet salad… … and the excellent conversation at our table, in order to capture the moment, along with entrancing design details. But as faithful readers of Blue Besos know, I never shy from flexing my blog biceps in the name of naming the new It Place. And Bridgette Bar, the latest brainchild of the Concorde Group, could be It.
Despite the casual striped napkins and friendly flora, this private dining table is destined for VIPs. The sum of Bridgette’s namesake font choice, the macrame, even the menu items give it a 70s ski lodge vibe…
… yet the airy loft space of the former Montauk store will take Bridgette from winter through to motorcycle season with ease.If the penultimate Pink Pompadour isn’t your style (although pisco, st. germain, pink grapefruit, lime and peychauds are cerainly mine) the cocktail menu has a lengthy list of reasonably priced wines, beers and bubbles. Along with several other drinks sure to boost Uber’s 2.0 in YYC.
Looking for brunch ideas this weekend? Look no further than Hayden Block. Even if you wake up at 2pm on Saturday or Sunday. Because they serve brunch until 3.Hayden Block Smoke and Whiskey is housed in – you guessed it – the Hayden Block heritage building on one of the cutest blocks in Kensington. The weather wasn’t warm enough to grab a spot outside this time around, but those heat lamps could mean an early al fresco spring.I’ll be honest. Texas-style barbecue is not normally my style. We found a sunny table by the window, and I prepared to be underwhelmed. However. The Eggs Benny arrived perfectly soft, atop a giant portion of pulled pork, with a subtle Hollandaise sauce. Tastebuds. Invigorated. In fact, this just might be my favorite benny in Calgary. I even ate all the potatoes, which I never do. They were excellent on their own, but the choices of three barbecue sauces at the table didn’t hurt.
The next plate was even more exciting. With whipped cream, blueberry compote and a big mound of meat, the buttermilk waffles were a taste collision that was delicious. By the way that sweet meat was a carne-val of candied burnt ends.If I could change one thing at Hayden Block, I’d up the ante with the Caesar. Not that it was bad, mind you. But everything else we tried was so powerfully palatable, I was craving a little more wham, bam, clamato ma’am! Still, I managed to quaff two without any real issues. Excellent brunch, Hayden Block. I’ll be back!
Last night the tunes were pumping through Una Takeaway for its opening party. Despite the DJ’s turntable in the kitchen, his beats reached all the way to the back, where a new, hidden bar will soon be the go-to for grown-up guzzling.In the front of the house, Una Takeaway offers many of the favorites found on the menu at Una Pizza + Wine, located next door on 17th Avenue. Delectables didn’t stay on display long. They were far too delicious.The takeaway territory is bright and cheerful, but Frenchie the gilt-framed terrier indicates a mood swing around the corner.Tucked into a tight space at the back is the intimate new Frenchie Wine Bar, where the fabulous gathered for sophisticated sipping, including……Janice Beaton, who knows how to cut a fine cheese. Delish!The bar boasts a curated wine list, charcuterie made in-house and just 15 seats. Which makes it easy to predict a full house for Frenchie Wine Bar. Merci pour votre hospitalite, Frenchie!
When the folks from Invivo Wines sent me this happy little package recently, I thought:perfect to quench my post-polo thirst! After playing four chukkers for Team Blue Besos, despite my personal puddle of sweat and crazy helmet hair, water never seems to be my top choice for rehydration.Mellow, peachy, but not too sweet, Invivo’s Pinot Gris hails from New Zealand. Available at several Calgary restaurants and at Willow Park Wines, it recently rated 91 points (out of 100) with the Globe and Mail. Normally I’m a Sauv Blanc kind of girl, but this Pinot will do in a pinch. Invivo gets marks for invigoration.
When the Marriott decided to hold a battle royale, celebrating their curated bourbon flights at 250 of their finest hotels, it makes sense that Calgary would be their only Canadian stop. Because who in this country appreciates a good drink more than anyone from YYC?With four bartenders feeling the heat of battle, the lobby of the Calgary Marriott was on fire. Shelby Goodwin of The Derrick Gin Mill & Kitchen came out of the gate smokin’ hot. But Madeline MacDonald of Model Milk, Michael Sheppard of the Marriott’s One 18 Empire and Kevin McKee of Marriott Scottsdale all had mighty mixes to muddle. Being polite Canadianas, we pretended not to notice that Marriott had stacked the deck with two of their own bartenders.To show she wasn’t phased, Model Milk’s Madeline struck a serious pose in between her bar-side dance moves, while the clocked ticked away on a time limit of five minutes for each round.Boozy brown concoctions of drinkable art ensued.Michael Sheppard displayed deft dexterity, and, dare I say, unusual technique for the pour? Behind him, after claiming he loved hockey, Arizonian Kevin McKee devised what he hoped would be the drink of champions.While the American contestant’s affection for hockey may have been questioned, his fans could teach us a thing or two about supporting a team. Bourbon Battles boosters! Host Heather Greene, spirit expert and NY Times short-listed author, wondered if Kevin’s fans would buoy him to the top spot. Meanwhile, Jonny Knoxville doppelgänger aka Michael took it low. Then popped up all confidence to hustle the bus to the judges.The judges, which included James Addison, vice president of global operations for Marriott in the blue button down, Nathan Head, owner of Milk Tiger, and Terry Rock, self acclaimed Man About Town, were schmoozed as well as served.
The judges had a tough decision on their hands, but they managed to sip their way through it.Ultimately, it was Shelby Goodwin of the Derrick who took home the emblazoned bourbon barrel lid. Must have been his muy caliente technique for the old fashioned. He’ll battle again at the finale in New York on June 14, representing Calgary on National Bourbon Day. Congrats Shelby! Kick some bourbon butt in NYC!
It’s a big birthday across the pond today — the Queen of England is turning 90. She still rides her fave Fell pony, as seen in this pic from last year, and prefers silk scarves to helmets. Since most of us probably can’t make it to the 90-minute May celebration with 900 horses, what better way to celebrate lovely Liz than with a cookbook by a former royal chef?Cordon Bleu chef Carolyn Robb went straight from cookery school to cook it up at the Royal Household for thirteen years.
As you can probably guess, I hold a torch for her all her polo-playing charges. The fact they look so bummed after a loss in this photo makes me love them even more. So of course I want to see where they got their energy from during the Chef Robb days.Chef Robb advises how to cook food fit for a king in a totally down-to-earth manner, with a chapter devoted to organic food for children. Lovingly published by ACC Editions, The Royal Touch, is a collage of recipes, photos, watercolor illustrations and hand-written notes from happy royals with full tummies.
The ones from Princess Diana are especially poignant.
The book offers a bounty of recipes, from breakfast to dessert, with clear instructions and Carolyn’s personal take on each dish. Since I’ve been on a quinoa kick lately, I’ll be trying the Warm Salad of Halloumi next. With quinoa, roasted aubergine and lemon mint dressing. Mmmm. Even more delicious is a 50% discount for Blue Besos readers. Head to the ACC website to register, then enter promotional code RT50. Happy cooking!
The glorious, awe-inspiring Canadian Rockies! This is the view from the top of the gondola at Lake Louise Ski Resort, which is still open — until May 8th. To my right, you can see the lake which this part of Banff (Canada’s first national park) was named for. The lake, and Deer Lodge, our digs for the weekend, are both only five minutes from the bottom of the hill.The famous turquoise glacier-fed water is already starting to appear through the rink that I played hockey on in February. The paths around the lake are in good conditions for a hike…… but after a day of snowboarding, apres-ski at Deer Lodge, just down the road, is more tempting.First up, into the rooftop hot tub, for a gorgeous view of the sunset over the Rockies. You can just make out the Beehive, a roundish mountain next to Lake Agnes teahouse, a beautiful hike to do in the summer. Meanwhile, this truly is a hot tub time machine, because afterward you’ll find yourself inside Deer Lodge, which is like going back to 1925, the year it opened.Tilt back your glass at the bar and you’ll see this guy, which makes perfect sense, because you’re in the Caribou Lounge. Just because you’re in a UNESCO World Heritage Site doesn’t mean you can’t get a decent drink.After a day of snowboarding it only made sense to apres with a charcuterie platter. It’s something of a specialty at Deer Lodge, because parent company Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts raises its own elk, bison and beef.Now that your tummy is primed for food, mosey by the bighorn to the Mount Fairview Dining Room.The Grilled Alberta Beef with parmesan frites is delectable.If you have room for desert, I highly recommend moving to the Great Room and having it in front of the fire. There is no room service at the hotel, but you’re welcome to bring your own drinks or nibbles up to your room. Ours had an incredible view — check it out.What a wonderful weekend! See you next year, Deer Lodge!